EL PASO, Texas — After spending three decades reshaping the University of Texas at El Paso, Diana Natalicio isn’t sure she’s ready for the next stage of her life.
“Well, I mean, in some ways I am and in some ways I’m not, having done the same thing for 30 years,” said Natalicio, who announced her retirement in May as UTEP’s president. “I don’t have much practice on the retirement side of this. So I think it’s a good time for me to do this. But I’ll have to see how successful I am at being a retiree.”
Natalicio, a 79-year-old native of St. Louis, recently discussed her legacy – and her future – with Borderzine. She plans to stay in El Paso. In the interview, she talked more about the university than herself.
“I think UTEP has been a beacon of hope and high aspirations for the border region,” Natalicio said. “I think that we will continue to be that because 84 percent of our students are from this region. So we are El Paso’s university and we’ve been very successful in both offering students an opportunity to get an education and to ensure that that education is the highest quality. And so that’s our access and excellence mission.”
She has been the only president generations of UTEP students have known, serving in the office since 1988. She has spent 45 years at the campus, serving previously as a professor of linguistics, chair of the modern languages department, dean of liberal arts and vice president of academic affairs.
Natalicio will serve until her replacement is named by the University of Texas Board of Regents. The UT System has said the next president is expected to be named early this year, but she said there’s no set date for her departure.
“I’m quite flexible because they don’t want to set the firm date (for her retirement) and then force us to fill in with somebody else as an interim. That would not be good,” Natalicio said. “So what I what I’d like to do is stay in place, so my successor is here and ready to go.”
UT regents named an 18-person search committee in August, and it met for the first time in October. The committee includes three UT regents; leaders from other UT System campuses; UTEP administrators, faculty and students; and El Paso community leaders. It is chaired by Steven Leslie, UT System executive vice chancellor for academic affairs.
Natalicio wants her successor to continue UTEP’s commitment to access and excellence and belief “in people’s talent, whatever their backgrounds, whatever their gender, their ethnicity, their financial means. There’s talent everywhere.”
“What that means in terms of what we do on the campus, we should keep doing research and do more of it, and generate more external funding because that will be very important to our future growth and development,” she said.